The day was August 4, 2000. I was officially on my way to begin my new life in Europe. As I stood in the long security line of San Francisco Airport with my big toe sticking out of my sock, I spotted a little boy, probably about five or six years old, waiting with his parents and his brother to go through the metal detector. The guard waved the boy to come through, and his mom gave him a nudge. When the boy walked through the detector, the light turned red and the panel started beeping. The guard asked the child to put out his arms and swept his black sensor around the boy’s body. He was beaming. For him, that black stick was nothing less than a magic wand.

Next, the guard waved the boy’s brother through. Excited, the second child walked through the metal tunnel, but he didn’t set off the alarm. With quivering lips, he turned back around and looked at his mother. Quickly sizing up the situation, the wise guard tapped the second boy on his shoulder and asked him to put his arms out. Then the man swept his magic black sensor wand all around him. The boy looked over at his mother. His face was one big smile.

As I looked at those two children, I thought back to my very first airplane flight. I was just about their age. My family was flying on Pan Am from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We were going to Disneyland. The year was 1968. We walked straight from check in to the gate. No security. My brothers, sister, and I were dressed up. I wore new black Oxfords. My hair was slick with Dippety Doo. After we were buckled up, the stewardess walked over to my family. Her polyester mini skirt matched our bright orange seats. Smiling, she handed my brothers and me metal wings. In the center of our wings were the words Junior Clipper Pilot. My sister’s wings said Junior Stewardess. Growing up, I saved my wings in a Hush Puppie shoebox under my bed. I heard that some airlines stopped giving kiddie wings out to children, something about the sharp pins and terrorism. Nonsense.

When I boarded the plane bound for Budapest, I sat beside a little girl about seven years old. I didn’t mind. I usually end up sitting by kids on airplanes. I’m convinced there’s some magnetic pull between children and grade school teachers. They find each other. During the flight, the girl fell asleep on my shoulder. Embarrassed, her mother apologized. “No problem,” I whispered with a smile. “I’m a teacher. This is just like a bus ride home from a field trip.” About twenty minutes later, the flight started to get pretty bumpy, and the girl woke up. She was afraid. The turbulence got worse, and the girl began to whimper.

I know what to do. 

I reached down under my seat, grabbed my computer bag, and unzipped the side pocket. Then I turned to the girl and held out a small object. It was time to pass it on. “Here,” I said. “Take these.” The girl sniffed twice. “They’re pilot wings,” I said,  “just like our pilot is wearing.” She sniffed, but just once this time. “See here,” I said, pointing to the words on the wings. “It says Junior Clipper Pilot.” The girl turned to her mother who nodded. I handed the wings to her, and she put them on her daughter. As the girl smiled down at her new wings, her mother looked over her child’s head and mouthed, “Thank you.”

20 thoughts on “Wings

    • I love it. Very sweet, and just what I expected from the Philip I sat next to in band 32 years ago. :-)

  1. Phil, your writing is magical! I am now hooked on your blogs, as I was on your first two books, I can’t wait for the third! You have so many wonderful gifts to share. I wish you every success! Love and hugs!

  2. Phil, you are such a very special person. What an impact you are making on this earth. Never grow tired of doing well by others…you are an inspiration!

  3. Hello Phillip, I love your style of writting and I am puzzled why you have decided to go and live in Budapest?
    I know European lifestyle is so different then California. The people, the weather and interaction, friendships etc.
    What do you find attractive, and what rubs you the wrong way? I am very interested being Hungarian.
    Love to read more of what you write.
    Olghi (friend of Kathleen)

  4. So glad to know you’ve followed and are now living your dream! After reading your book 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny I was inspired to follow my dream of returning to the classroom. (I’d been home with my daughters for a number of years). I’m back in the Kindergarten again and loving every minute of it!!! Thanks for your magical writing which shows the joy, love and laughter present in the very best elementary classrooms. You are a gift!

  5. This actually made me cry :( That is such a gorgeous thing to do! And your blog is making my heart ache for Budapest. I can’t wait to re-visit and just walk those cobble stoned streets and stand in the middle of the castle. Until then, i will have your blog :)

  6. Awesome story Phil. I have the same wings…notice the present tense. Darned good thing you didn’t get stopped and searched by security with that stick pin in your carry-on, though. What would you have given the child? ;-)

  7. What a special person you are! You are such a gifted writer, and even better, you are such an incredible teacher. I feel your heart and love for children every time I read your stories.
    Your parents must be so proud of you. They must be very special people, too. What is their secret for rearing a “Phillip Done”?

  8. Double awe. That was very sweet.
    Lively writing. I see the names of your books in a previous blog and will look them up. Looking forward to it. Just getting done with my first novel. Yikes! I have several younger cousins that are grade school teachers and I bet they would love your books! Wonderful to connect with you.

  9. Dear Phil…your current accomplishments in Europe don’t surprise me. I always knew you were an exceptional teacher and super human-being. You danced your way into the hearts of your students and all those who know you, even when you cut your tie on the paper cutter.

  10. Dearest Phil! What a gift your blogs are to us all! I can hardly wait for your next book. While working with you and your students, I understood exactly why every family wanted to have Mr. Done for their teacher! God has blessed you with talent and you have put every spec of it to very good use! Giving your flight pin to a stranger, a child? How very “Phil Done” of you!

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